Lawrence Wolfe's internship in Cheyenne was supposed to last the summer. Thirty years later, he is managing partner of the largest firm in the region
Published in 2007 Mountain States Super Lawyers magazine
on June 21, 2007
Updated on June 11, 2009
Overseeing the daily operations of Denver-based Holland & Hart, the largest law firm in the Rocky Mountain West, doesn’t leave Lawrence Wolfe much time to curl up with a good book.
After 21 years practicing natural resources and energy law with the firm, Wolfe became managing partner on Jan. 1, putting him in charge of 355 lawyers and 13 offices in seven states and Washington, D.C. It’s a tall order, and one that keeps Wolfe away from his Cheyenne home most of the time. He stays in Denver throughout the week and spends weekends in Wyoming with his family.
But when Wolfe does manage to secure some quiet time for reading, he navigates his way through Candice Millard’s The River of Doubt, a historical account of Theodore Roosevelt’s near-fatal rafting trip down Rio da Dúvida in Brazil.
“It’s this fascinating book about Roosevelt and his thirst for experience,” Wolfe says.
The luxurious 32nd-floor offices of Holland & Hart in downtown Denver may seem a world away from Roosevelt’s treacherous Amazon trek, but a closer look reveals a few striking similarities between Wolfe and the former president. Roosevelt is known for his love of the outdoors, and Wolfe, who enjoys skiing, biking and bird hunting, has worked in environmental law since heading the natural resources division in the Wyoming attorney general’s office in the early 1980s. As Roosevelt navigated the rapids of an unexplored river in Brazil, Wolfe traversed complicated natural resources law and spearheaded numerous water rights cases.
And it was Wolfe’s own thirst for experience that led him to Wyoming more than 30 years ago.
In 1974, Wolfe graduated from the University of California, Davis, with a degree in psychology, and he had intentions of going to medical school and taking a job in Sacramento. Wolfe’s career path, and his life, took an unexpected detour, however, when he accepted a summer-long internship with Emergency Medical Services in Cheyenne.
“I thought it was going to be a short visit,” he says, but “I liked Wyoming and I saw opportunities there.”
He met his wife, a lifelong Cheyenne resident, and they started a family, raising a daughter and a son who now live in Boston and Denver, respectively. With the area’s oil and gas industry beginning to boom, Wolfe decided to pursue a career in law, and in 1980 he graduated from the University of Wyoming College of Law in Laramie.
Natural resources became a passion for Wolfe, and in the boom-or-bust region rich in minerals but short on water, he learned quickly that they are a precious commodity. “If you’re going to be in the West, these issues are what have been the major forces that have driven the economy,” he says. “It turned out to be a very serendipitous choice.”
He also got a crash course in mountain states economics when he began working in the attorney general’s office. The natural resources industry was hurting in the early ’80s, and he represented the state engineer in all water matters and chaired the natural resources division, representing the Department of Environmental Quality. By the end of his tenure working for the attorney general, the natural resources industry was back on the road to recovery.
In 1985, he was offered a position with Holland & Hart, a firm that at the time had offices in Denver and Aspen and was just opening one in Wyoming. The position was a great opportunity, but there was also the potential shifting of the political winds in the attorney general’s office to consider. “There was an election going on, and so I didn’t have any idea how that was going to turn out,” he says with a laugh. “It seemed like a good time to move.” When he started at Holland & Hart, much of his work involved closing banks for the FDIC. He also did tax litigation on behalf of the state’s big gas and coal producers.
Wolfe has argued more than 25 cases before the Wyoming Supreme Court. Yet he defers to those around him when asked to tout his own accomplishments. “The firm has provided incredible support to each of the offices and to our practices,” he says. “And I have had the benefit of having wonderful long-term clients.”
Paul Phillips, the current chair of Holland & Hart’s management committee and former chair of the firm’s natural resources department, has known Wolfe for 25 years. “Larry takes real and genuine joy in the accomplishments and success of other people,” he says. “He’s reached a point in his career where what he wants to achieve is to help other people achieve their success and dreams. That’s more important to him than his own ambitions.”